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Mother, mother ocean, I have heard you call
Wanted to sail upon your waters since I was three feet tall
You've seen it all, you've seen it all...

J. Buffett

The Basics

Sailing is an incredible and magical experience. Harnessing the wind to power you over the rolling swells of the ocean. Happening upon a pod of dolphins, which decide to play and chase the boat.

As in many sports, sailing can be extremely relaxing or seriously competitive. And as you'll find out, sailors are a breed apart. They're world travelers and adventurers, following the wind and currents. They are also great storytellers.

To enjoy sailing casually, you don't really need much equipment, just some good sunscreen and sunglasses. However, if you want to be taken seriously, it is impressive to have the appropriate gear, not too much but not too little. The original deck shoes or topsiders look good, but there may be better options for you.

Here are some tips for you on what you will need sailing

A Day on the Water

Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a baseball cap, and boat or tennis shoes. Make sure your shoe choice has white bottoms or soles. Dark rubber soles will mark up the deck of the boat. String bikinis may be optimal for sun exposure, but they really aren't comfortable on a boat. Besides, sunburns are just not worth the pain and skin damage. The sun is extra strong on the water, so always wear sunscreen!

As a new sailor, your first big hurdle will be using the bathroom or head as it is referred to on the boat. First rule of thumb, always go to the bathroom right before you leave the dock. Bathrooms on land are much more pleasant than at sea. Second, ask the captain how the head works and have them show you. They'll be happy to show you. Sometimes captains forget to give a full tour of the boat and introduce new sailors to all aspects of sailing including the head. Warning, some boats don't have a head at all. They use a bucket! Don't worry about it, all sailors have had some experience with the bucket.

An Aggressive Sailing Experience

Boat shoes, sailing gloves, a hat, and a jacket are necessary. The Sea breeze is much cooler than the breeze on land, even in the tropics a jacket is a good idea. It is also a good idea to bring food and water. The captain and crew will always welcome more food and beverages. You can work up quiet the appetite on a boat. It is also not uncommon for a sail or a race to take longer than it should. You're relying on the wind, which can never be counted on. That extra snack will come in handy, especially if your 8-hour race turns into 20 hours.

Cut-throat Competition

You will need foul weather gear for rough sailing, rain, and overnight trips. Foul weather gear is protective clothing, such as waterproof jackets and pants. Having the right gear shows that you're ready for business; the captain doesn't need to worry about you, and that you'll be safe and comfortable. (Though comfort on a boat is always relative.) All sailors are envious of a good pair of foul weather gear or foulies as they're affectionately termed. They'll last a long time, so go ahead and get a good pair. It's worth the investment. Having the proper gear can be a lifesaver in severe weather conditions. Make sure they fit right.


  • No black soled shoes. They'll leave marks on the deck.
  • No sun tanning oil. The oil will get on the deck and make the deck slippery, making it hard to stay on the boat.
  • "Everything has a home". Stowing or putting the boat away is a serious event. Don't take it lightly. Captains have specific ways to stow the boat. If you want to be asked back, it's best to follow their lead or ask how they want something put away.


  • Bring a small line or string to tie your baseball cap or hat to your clothes. You don't make many friends by chasing things that fly overboard.
  • Put sunscreen on before you leave the house. The combination of direct sun and the reflection off the water is very harsh. On a sailboat, finding shade is impossible and spending the day down below isn't a nice alternative.


  • If you're sailing on a big boat, make sure the captain has life jackets and that you know where they are.
  • If you're planning to do small boat sailing or dingy sailing, get a life jacket. Having a life jacket or PFD (personal floatation device) that fits well and doesn't hinder your movement will be an asset. Kayaking and windsurfing will also require a PFD.
  • Tell your friends where you're going and when you should be back.
  • Keep a watch out for the boom and keep clear of lines and ropes. When the skipper announces "ready about" it's a warning that the boat is changing direction and the boom will be moving to the other side. Keep low to the deck and stay clear. Don't let any ropes or lines get looped around your ankles or feet.

See SheGear Stories for information about Dawn Riley and her America's Cup team, America True. Or, check out their web site at
Dawn Riley

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